Millions of federal student loan borrowers are worried about what will happen with the Biden Administration’s student debt relief plan after a Texas court barred the program from moving forward for the time being.
At least 26 million people have applied for the program that aims to cancel up to $20,000 in debt per eligible borrower. On Friday, the relief program announced on their website that they had stopped accepting applications due to the court decision, but said they are working to “overturn those orders.” Some borrowers are now concerned about whether the delays will continue and if the promised debt relief will still happen at all.
“I think it’s going to take much longer than we initially were hoping, and that’s kind of defeating,” Emily Archer, a recent graduate in health and nutrition studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, tells TIME. “So many things are out of reach for our generation. Being able to accumulate wealth is just not part of my future.”
The Texas ruling is the second major attempt to strike down the program, coming after a U.S. Appeals court temporarily blocked the program last month to review a case from six Republican-led states. Other lawsuits have primarily been rejected in court for lacking standing.
The Education Department’s student debt relief program was committed to begin relieving debt by Dec. 31, but has faced intense scrutiny and legal action from conservative opponents. Uncertainty over the results and length of court battles could derail plans for those who already applied for relief, as well as millions more who are eligible.
The most recent lawsuit, which was brought by the Job Creators Network Foundation, claimed that the relief program violated the Administrative Procedure Act because the administration did not seek public comment on the plan, and U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman agreed that the plaintiffs were denied a “procedural right.”
Some frustrated borrowers blame President Biden and his administration for not pushing enough to follow through on his campaign promise to deliver student debt relief. “I feel like it kind of works out for them. Maybe they can get away with not following through on this plan,” Archer says.
The Biden administration had already approved 16 million borrowers’ applications for debt relief before the ruling and said it will hold on to all applicant information to quickly process relief, “once we prevail in court.” Biden has previously said that he would not be extending the student loan payment pause again but has not addressed the issue since Thursday’s court ruling.
“I really hope it doesn’t actually fall through because I’m not financially prepared if I have to resume loan payments in January,” Sarah Shobut, a recent graduate from Rutgers University Newark who studied political science and gender studies, tells TIME. “I am working two jobs, just to afford living and paying rent and paying for my groceries.”
The prospect of having to resume loan payments has borrowers who’ve been eagerly anticipating relief since this summer caught off guard. Shobut applied for the program the week applications opened in October and says that it’s “anxiety provoking” not knowing what will happen.
“I have all these plans for my life and I cannot do them because I’m trying to be logical about what I can and can’t pay, and about the prospects of my career,” Shobut says. Her goal of going to graduate school feels unattainable. “I don’t know how to prioritize this when it’s all up in the air.”
If student debt relief delays continue and loan payments resume, which they are set to in January 2023, the added monthly expense would be particularly difficult for those who suffered job loss, health issues, or other by-products of the economic downturn from the pandemic.
Archer says she had to move back in with her parents during the pandemic and that many others in her life also faced setbacks over the past couple of years. “Financially it’s been a bit tough and I feel like we’re headed toward a recession right now. The prices, the inflation rate this year has just gone up,” she says.
Inflation in the U.S. reached a 40-year high this summer.
“I feel like I have to pick and choose where my money goes,” Archer added.
Shobut says as is the case for many other BIPOC students, the cost of education has been an enormous barrier for everyone in her family, who immigrated from Syria 10 years ago.
“We are taught, you’re supposed to go to college; that’s how you’re going to make your life better. You’re going to get this job after graduation and then you’re going to achieve this American dream,” she says. “I don’t have that much student loan debt, but it’s surely enough for me not to be able to afford it.”
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